There is one common public reaction to my talks that bothers me quite a bit. I am worried that after each of my lectures, people will just start taking lots of anti-aging pills without regard for dosage or effectiveness, potentially hurting themselves in the process.
This is because one of the most common reactions to me mentioning any currently available interventions is to search for each and every component and order them all right away. Whatever I say about safety and the need to test before people make any changes in their lifestyles seems ineffective.
So, I want to talk about this problem.
Do you know exactly what science is and why we use science rather than faith, fantasy, intuition, or chance to create every physical thing we have?
Science is a set of procedures used for knowledge gathering, accumulation, classification, assessment, and application that makes it possible to get reproducible (read – controllable) results. The scientific method allows us to build houses that don’t collapse, make planes that can fly, produce edible food, and create medicines that can cure diseases.
Once you step away from that and ignore the scientific method, your results become uncontrollable, which is what happens when you run to the store to buy longevity supplements without any preliminary homework.
Yes, most of the advanced life extensionists began from this point, myself included, blindly taking a handful of supplements without checking up on their effects. However, this stage should be as short as possible for two reasons.
The first reason is that geroprotectors are having more and more effects. Some of them are drugs with systemic effects on the body – and adverse effects, too.
Think of a car driven by a blind driver. If the maximum speed is low, the potential harm is relatively low as well (unless this is a mountain road – for instance, if your health is already frail). The driver might get a couple of scratches and bruises, that is all. However, as the speed increases, the possibility of being seriously harmed by the collision increases as well. I don’t know anyone who would dare to get a ride from a blind driver at, say, 60 mph.
Yet, when you intend to take a huge list of longevity pills and therapies without any sort of analysis or control, this is exactly what you are doing.
The second reason is that everyone is different. What works for another person with another genetic portrait may not work well for you. You might not need it at all (for instance, my lipid profile is so damn perfect that it does not make sense to intervene in it with statins and diet), or you may need the opposite of what you are planning to do (for example, if your level of vitamin D is too high already, you’ll have to suppress it rather than taking vitamin D as a supplement). However, you will never know which interventions are appropriate for you if you don’t get tested to learn your starting points.
This call would be incomplete without some sort of advice. What would I suggest for beginners?
1) Genetic testing. Learn all you can about your genome, including weaknesses, strong points, potential drug sensitivities and health risks, as this will inform your lifestyle much better than common sense.
2) Study your biomarkers of aging. Have your blood tested in detail before you self-prescribe any treatments, as this will help reveal where to focus your attention. I am really happy to have the Open Longevity project here in Moscow; this organization collected a list of the most useful biomarkers, and people can get tested two or three times per year to see the way they age. Check its presentation for the recommended list of biomarkers.
3) Talk to a professional about your results. Doctors know more than you about the human body. They can see what you can’t see, they can warn you about biometric deviations that represent serious problems, and they can calm you down about other perceived issues that are only the short-term consequences of what you were doing yesterday. In my case, high levels of inflammatory signals were provoked by going to a swimming pool the day before. I was worried by the numbers until I was told that next time I should do my test three or four days after the last episode of intensive physical activity.
4) I know that you will be taking supplements without medical supervision. I know that for a fact. I can’t talk you out of it because there are not enough doctors who are able to make this journey to longevity with you. I beg you, please, think about introducing one new supplement into your regimen every two weeks instead of taking a handful at once. That way, you will know how this particular compound affected you and what changes it made in how you feel. Similarly, whenever you begin taking something, take a low dose for the first few days. Why? This is easy: individual intolerance is a possibility. You can accidentally find out that you are intolerant to a specific compound. If the dose is small, it will be enough to find out about the intolerance but not enough to severely harm yourself.
5) Make your longevity checkups regular. Save some money to do it at least twice per year. This way, you will know what is happening, you can track the changes, and you can check if the strategy you chose is still good and make sure that you did not overdo it. Like in the example with vitamin D, by trying to remove the deficiency, you can get an excess, which is as harmful as a deficiency. Make sure that you have found a healthy medium.
6) Accumulate the information, and make it visual. Collect the results of your tests, build graphics based on them, see what is changing, and become aware of why. This feedback loop will motivate you to support lifestyle improvements or to be less fanatical about what you are doing if you are doing too much.
This is about all I have to say. I know that this does not sound easy nor very comfortable. However, this is a way to reduce risks and get more health benefits from your life extension activities. Caution, patience, and self-discipline should be the main pillars of your strategy.
There is one more thing. Try not to discredit our movement. Remember that if you accidentally hurt yourself, or if you cannot prove that you achieved results, this alone makes it hard for us as a community to persuade others that we are doing something useful. It is much easier to promote rejuvenation research if you can prove that your evidence-based longevity strategy has caused your body to age more slowly and given you better than average health for your age. Trust in science, and hopefully, in 30 years, you will be younger than you are now.